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The Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. It can be seen from outer space, it is a World Heritage Site, it is the single biggest structure ever made by living organisms, and it generates $3 billion a year in tourism.

The reef is affected by a number of environmental threats, among them ocean warming, pollution and eutrophication, overfishing of keystone species, and shipping accidents. Tourism, however, is not even a top-five concern. This miraculous fact is due to a number of responsible business practices which tourism companies operating on the reef observe.

National and Professional Protection

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has been protected by the government of Australia since 1975. The governing authority of the Marine Park prohibits certain activities which would be damaging to the reef — as a result, the tourism industry on the reef is heavily regulated (whether or not a “free market” approach would yield a similar or better result is not something I looked at for this post.)

On top of that — visitors to the reef are required to pay a small environmental management fee, which goes into preservation efforts on behalf of the reef.

Regulation by the government is not the only thing protecting the reef, however. Out of respect for the great environmental majesty of the locale — and out of respect for their own business longevity — tourism agencies take their own measures to ensure the reef’s health.

Tourist expeditions tend to stick to about 8% of the reef’s total area. Eco-tourism certifications are common among tourist boats — specific training and education aimed at realizing business practices that are best for sustainability.

Profitability of Responsibility

Tourist operations in the Great Barrier Reef understand the importance of responsible best practices. Their businesses are based on an amazing ecological wonder. By working around the reef, they have a responsibility to preserve and protect the life — the fish, the whales and dolphins, the coral, the crustaceans — that they are using to make money.

The ability to turn a profit is a cornerstone of business, certainly. But extracting profits – while killing the source of those profits – would be unwise, to say the least. The tourism industry has a symbiotic relationship with the reef — preservation funds generated by the millions of visitors are put into protecting the reef, and the protected beauty of the reef in turn fuels the billions of dollars in revenue.

Last-Chance Tourism

A recent phenomenon in ecotourism on the Great Barrier Reef is known as last-chance tourism. It’s a sort of paradox — people are travelling to places like the reef in order to “see it before it’s gone,” which in turn has brought greater degrees of damaging pollution.

A survey conducted by The Conservation found that 69% of visitors to the Great Barrier Reef in 2015 traveled there because they wanted to see the reef before it was gone.

Increasing degrees of worldwide knowledge about the environmental threats to the reef — such as coral bleaching due to ocean warming — have driven more and more tourists to the reef in recent years. While this has been good for the industry, it is not sustainable growth.

If the health of the Great Barrier Reef continues to decline, the health of the industry will decline as well. The responsible best practices are becoming more and more important.

Bottom line:

We have a responsibility not to hurt other people — or nature — while we’re seeking profit. Responsible business is sustainable; irresponsible business will inevitably lead to major issues down the line.


  • Do you consider the impact of your business — on the world?
  • Does your company take on a certain degree of responsibility to contribute to society — or at least not damage it?
  • What are some other good examples of “responsible” tourist destinations? Have you visited any of them?


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